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ISHS Acta Horticulturae 768: XXVII International Horticultural Congress - IHC2006: International Symposium on The Role of Postharvest Technology in the Globalisation of Horticulture

COULD 'FOOD MILES' BECOME A NON-TARIFF BARRIER?

Authors:   J.A. Heyes, A. Smith
Keywords:   energy costs, life cycle assessment, sustainability, trade, transport
Abstract:
Movements advocating ‘buy local’ have used the ‘Food Miles’ concept to develop consumer awareness of the environmental ‘footprint’ of food items freighted over longer distances, and have raised objections to the environmental costs of pandering to consumer demand for year-round availability of a wide variety of horticultural products. This problem requires careful analysis, particularly because the ‘Food Miles’ concept may help to create a new type of non-tariff trade barrier. The environmental benefit of the ‘Food Miles’ concept is not so clear-cut. Transport by sea has been estimated to impose a 20-fold lower energy cost per kg of produce than transport by road, making a simple comparison of kilometres travelled almost meaningless. Air freight, often criticized as the least sustainable form of transport, has a hugely variable environmental cost per kg depending on whether perishable produce is transported in freight-only aeroplanes or as cargo in passenger flights. A focus on the environmental impact of ‘Food Miles’ is misleading unless there is additional information on the other energy costs involved in producing alternative products. The ‘Food Miles’ concept comes at a particularly bad time for developing countries, for whom niche marketing of horticultural products can make a significant contribution to sustainable socio-economic development. The recent launch of the Global Horticulture Initiative promotes trade in fresh produce as a means to support sustainable development in developing countries. This paper explores some of the issues surrounding ‘Food Miles’ calculations and the potential impact of the ‘Food Miles’ issue on sustainable socio-economic development.
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